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The X-Files – Dreamland I (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

It occasionally seems like the sixth season of The X-Files is having something approaching a midlife crisis.

It has gone through a fairly massive change in routine and lifestyle; the show recently pulled up sticks and moved to Los Angeles. It has gotten a lot more ostentatious; it looks to be spending a lot more money than it was before, and it is hanging around with a whole new caliber of guest star. It has reinvented itself completely; no longer the brooding and atmospheric show it once was, it is now downright goofy and silly. Old acquaintances would be forgiven if they had trouble recognising the show. And it’s perfectly understandable.

Back to back...

Back to back…

This is the sixth season. Dreamland I is the one-hundred-and-twenty-first episode of The X-Files. The show is well past what Chris Carter had originally planned, and well past just about any measure of success. Most shows are lucky to reach a sixth season, let alone come into the sixth season off the back of a summer film and with a great deal of security about the future. David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Chris Carter were all committed through to the end of the seventh season. There was even talk of a sequel to The X-Files: Fight the Future being released in 2000.

Dreamland I and Dreamland II just externalise that midlife crisis, using the classic “freaky friday” body swap set up putting Fox Mulder in a dead-end job with a family that hates him as Morris Fletcher tries to help the FBI agent grow up just a little bit.

"Yep. It's a little... out there."

“Yep. It’s a little… out there.”

It is perfectly reasonable that the show would go through something akin to a midlife crisis. The early stretch of the sixth season is very much a show trying to prove that it is still energised and dynamic. The End shook up the show’s status quo, but in a safe way – Mulder and Scully were off the X-files, but this wasn’t even the first time that had happened. While the second season had seen Mulder and Scully fighting to reopen the X-files, the sixth season is more relaxed about their reassignment. It seems to suggest that taking the X-files out of The X-Files is no big deal.

Similarly, the show’s emphasis on comedy in the early stretch of the sixth season seems openly rebellious. After all, that would be the last thing that people might expect from a show that had helped to redefine television horror in the nineties. The X-Files had developed a cult following as a heady mixture of classic horror and paranoid conspiracy theories, so dovetailing into romantic comedy was a bold (and provocative) move from the production team. This was a show trying to prove that it was still young and vital.

The X-Files was still the bomb at this point in its run...

The X-Files was still the bomb at this point in its run…

After all, The X-Files had evolved from a quirky cult television show to a certified international hit. It had been lucky to get a second season, but now Fox was eagerly signing the staff on for years at a time. The X-Files had begun as a cheeky little outsider utterly unlike anything else on television; it had evolved into an institution. That is an incredible arc for the show as a whole, and the sixth season really needs to be examined in that light. The X-Files doesn’t want to end up trapped in amber, a snapshot of the pop culture of 1998. It doesn’t want to tread water.

The later seasons of The X-Files attract a lot of criticism from fans and commentators, and understandably so. There are a significant number of bad episodes and poor decisions ahead. There are outside factors that contribute to the slow and painful decline of a once-great institution. However, the show never completely loses the ability to surprise its audience and catch them off-guard. The show never becomes completely and utterly safe. For every generic and formulaic episode ahead, there is another curveball or gamble.

Secret agent man...

Secret agent man…

The arc at the start of the sixth season bares more than a superficial similarity to the arc at the start of the second season. Both seasons find Mulder and Scully taken off the X-files, with Mulder still enthusiastically investigating the paranormal in his spare time. However, the emphasis is slightly different. The tension in the second season was getting the X-files reopened, and reuniting Mulder and Scully. In the sixth season, the questions seem more existential. If you take Mulder and Scully away from the X-files, what happens to Mulder and Scully?

The sixth season hits on some of the big ideas suggested by the second season – that The X-Files never was a show about the eponymous filing system, but was instead a story about two dysfunctional individuals trapped in an odd relationship in a wacky world. The opening arcs of the second and sixth seasons make Mulder and Scully vitally important to the continued survival of The X-Files, stressing that this is their story. The monsters and the horror are not the point of The X-Files; the sixth season seems to suggest they are pretty inessential. It’s all about Mulder and Scully.

Mulder in black...

Mulder in black…

This ultimately suggests that you can’t really have The X-Files without Mulder and Scully, suggesting they are more important to the show than the X-files themselves. This was a risky creative decision, even in the second season. Tying the fate of The X-Files to Mulder and Scully meant ransoming the show to David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. It was an even riskier move at the start of the sixth season, when Duchovny had repeatedly suggested he was feeling his own seven-year itch and that he was increasingly frustrated with the show.

In a way, the opening arcs of the second and sixth seasons would lay the groundwork for the show’s implosion. Making Mulder and Scully so important to the show made it impossible for the show to move past them. The eighth season managed to work around Duchovny’s absence quite shrewdly, assisted by the actor’s decision to return for the final run of episodes. The ninth season floundered as it proved unable to let Mulder go, even as Duchovny hit the ejector button pretty hard.

Rock lizard? Doo doo, doo doo, do do do do do do do...

Rock lizard?!
Doo doo, doo doo, do do do do do do do…

Then again, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Without the emphasis on Mulder and Scully in the first place, it seems unlikely that the show would have become such a cult hit. As uncomfortable as “noromos” might be with the romantic element of The X-Files, casual viewers loved the “will they?”/“won’t they?” dynamic of the show. That was more of a national talking point than Flukeman or the Peacocks or Eugene Victor Tooms would ever be. Still, it meant that The X-Files could never manage a rotating cast like E.R. or Law & Order.

With the removal of Mulder and Scully from the X-files, The X-Files firmly rejects any attempt to label the show as a procedural. The X-Files was never about their jobs. Indeed, assigning the pair to dull desk jobs allows The X-Files to shift the focus away from the professional aspect of the relationship between the two. The X-Files could no longer be considered a “workplace drama” or a “procedural”, if those terms could ever be applied to the show. Mulder and Scully’s “day jobs” were just as dull and soul-destroying (and incidental) as that of Chandler Bing on Friends.

Suit up!

Suit up!

So, what are you left with when you take the X-files out of The X-Files and just focus on Mulder and Scully? Dreamland I proposes that that the X-files are really just incidental. The teaser to Dreamland I suggests that Mulder and Scully are really just two people who like to do weird stuff together. Some people go to movies, some take in opera; Mulder and Scully chase UFOs. This isn’t merely what they do, but who they are. Scully even acknowledges this as such in the opening scene.

“Don’t you ever just want to stop?” Scully wonders, articulating an existential angst the probably resonated with the production team. “Get out of the damn car? Settle down and live something approaching a normal life?” Mulder responds in a rather knee-jerk defensive manner. “This is a normal life,” he insists. He might not be entirely correct in that assertion, but Dreamland I suggests that this is Mulder and Scully’s life. The sixth season repeatedly wonders whether either or both want more from it.

Somebody needs some work place sensitivity training...

Somebody needs some work place sensitivity training…

Triangle has Mulder kiss a version Scully and profess his love to his partner. The Rain King has Scully talk about a “lightbulb” coming on. According to Frank Spotnitz, this was a conscious choice across the sixth season, evolving organically from Fight the Future:

“Because of the near kiss in the movie-which to me was significant because clearly there was intent and desire to kiss in that moment-we thought we’d play with the moment, with the attraction,” explains Spotnitz of their tactic for the sixth season. “Which we did a number of times, I thought: Mulder and Scully’s farewell in Dreamland II, certainly the kiss and [Mulder’s] ‘I love you’ in Triangle, the winks that there’s an attraction for each other in Rain King. But I don’t think any of us wants to get rid of the tension that keeps the relationship interesting…or ruin that relationship. So it’s an evolution. Theirs is very much an organic, continuing relationship.”

This plays through Dreamland I and Dreamland II, which captures a lot of the anxieties running through the sixth season. There is a desire to shake things up, but also a reluctance to commit to real and lasting change.

"Don't worry. We've got a plan in case David Duchovny doesn't re-up at the end of the seventh season."

“Don’t worry. We’ve got a plan in case David Duchovny doesn’t re-up at the end of the seventh season.”

The two-parter repeatedly suggests that Mulder and Scully are best treated as a married couple. It is most obvious when Morris steps into Mulder’s shoes, but it is perhaps quite instructive that Scully doesn’t seem to notice a major change in how Morris!Mulder treats her. When Morris!Mulder avoids her questions by asking her to fill up the car, she seems to treat it as passive-aggressive deflection. “Okay… if you don’t want to talk about it…” When Morris!Mulder asks her to pick up some cigarettes, she balks. He whines, “You’re not going to be a Nazi about it, are you?”

When Scully does begin to suspect that Morris!Mulder is not who he claims to be, he acts as if she is a nagging wife. “Will you please stop trying to pick a fight with me?” he implores. Dreamland seems to suggest that Fletcher and Mulder have engaged in the weirdest wife-swap ever. It’s not for nothing that Joanne Fletcher accuses Mulder!Morris of having an affair, just as Scully catches Morris!Mulder enjoying “a little lunch break” with Kersh’s assistant. (Indeed, Scully is quite frustrated by Morris!Mulder’s afternoon delight, demanding, “What do you think you’re doing?”)

"But hey, at least we finally got to Area 51, right?"

“But hey, at least we finally got to Area 51, right?”

That said, this element of Dreamland I and Dreamland II does add a rather unpleasant subtext to the episode. Morris!Mulder and Mulder!Morris find themselves dealing with female partners who are portrayed as nagging and shrewish, almost as stock sitcom wives. Joanne and Scully are perfectly rational in their observations or complaints, but Dreamland I and Dreamland II seem to side with Morris and Mulder. Dreamland I is almost sympathetic to Morris’ attempts to escape Joanne, and suggests that Mulder really can’t count on Scully when he needs her.

Dreamland I builds to a nice character moment for Joanne towards the end of the hour, as Mulder!Morris and Joanne try to fix a profoundly broken marriage. It is a suprisingly sweet conversation that hints at a humanity in both characters. Mulder!Morris makes a big sweeping confession to Joanne to try to spare her feelings while also metaphorically confronting his odd circumstances. However, Dreamland I immediately undercuts the moment by having Joanne turn it into an impotence joke. “They have that pill now,” she explains. “There’s other ways to be intimate.”

Okay, some fan reactions to the sixth season were a little... extreme...

Okay, some fan reactions to the sixth season were a little… extreme…

When Mulder!Morris tries to convince Scully that he is really her partner, he rattles off all sorts of personal information – from her middle-name to her mother’s name to her current lunch routine. Scully responds by pointing out all of this information could have been ascertained by a third party. It’s not unreasonable, given that Gethsemane featured the government growing an alien body to discredit Mulder. However, Mulder!Morris responds sarcastically, “That is so you. That is so Scully. Well, it’s good to know you haven’t changed. That’s somewhat comforting.”

Indeed, the two-parter offers a couple of rather mean-spirited jokes at the expense of Joanne and Scully. When Joanne is distracted to answer the door, Mulder!Morris makes a mock monster face behind his back – a moment that threatens to turn Dreamland I into something approaching a fifties sitcom. After Scully gets understandably upset at Morris!Mulder for his attitude and storms out of his apartment, the camera pans to Morris!Mulder’s reflection in the mirror so the camera can laugh at the image of Mulder describing Scully as a “bitch.”

Matter of (flight) record...

Matter of (flight) record…

Nevertheless, Dreamland I and Dreamland II are episodes fascinated with the idea of making Mulder grow up, confronting the character with the idea of stopping and getting “out of the damned car.” Mulder finds himself thrown into the life of Morris Fletcher, a decidedly middle-class existence with a wife and two kids in a suburban housing estate. It is a world that is truly alien to Mulder, one that exists well outside his romantic life chasing UFOs up and down the highways and byways of the United States.

Explaining why he went along with the body swap, Morris!Mulder offers Scully a horror story that is probably closer to the experience of the viewer than that of either Mulder or Scully. “Do you think I want to go back to that?” he asks. “Two kids who’d probably kill me in my sleep for the insurance money. A $400,000 mortgage on a house that just appraised at $226,000. And my job… yee-gods! You think being a man in black is all voodoo mind control? I can see the paperwork.”

I'm talkin' to the man in the mirror...

I’m talkin’ to the man in the mirror…

For all the technobabble and body-swapping, Dreamland I and Dreamland II push Mulder closer to something approximating the real world than ever before. Mulder!Morris gets to experience all the joys of middle-age, from a dysfunctional family to a dull job to office politics. The X-Files tended to shy away from the middle-management of the vast global conspiracy, but the best jokes in Dreamland are centred on the sheer mind-numbing banality of the evil represented by Morris Fletcher.

The teaser to Dreamland I introduces Morris Fletcher in the shadows, menacingly smoking a cigarette and wearing a suit behind a line of well-armed men. Dreamland I frames Morris Fletcher as a stand-in for the Cigarette-Smoking Man, the most iconic and distinctive agent of the conspiracy. However, the episode promptly reveals that Morris Fletcher is really just a mid-level civil servant who has to worry about all sorts of mundane crap. Mulder!Morris was undoubtedly expected warehouses full of alien craft; instead he gets a modest office with family photos.

This guy's been running the store for so long that it's practically a part of him...

This guy’s been running the store for so long that it’s practically a part of him…

Even General Wegman is revealed to be just a man punching the clock. “What is the truth?” Mulder!Morris asks. Wegman is surprised by the question. “You mean… you don’t know?” he ponders. Wegman seems to have been convinced that Mulder knew all the answers. Wegman actually knows next to nothing. “We just fly these birds. They don’t tell us what makes them go. They engineer them all up in Utah.” There is something hilarious about the officer in charge of Area 51 asking, “Do aliens really exist, Agent Mulder?”

The grass is always greener on the other side. Mulder looks inside the conspiracy for truth; conspirators look outside the conspiracy for truth. It is no wonder that mirrors are a pivotal part of Dreamland, and not just to show off the impressive special effects work. Dreamland has Mulder step through the looking glass, offering him a glimpse at a life that he will never really be allowed. The world behind the curtain – the world constantly alluding him – is not a world of saucer people and conspirators, but that of a so-called ordinary life.

Mulder's not feeling himself lately...

Mulder’s not feeling himself lately…

Dreamland works well enough as a comedy episode, even if it feels a little padded out to two episodes and the concept is recycled from Small Potatoes. At the same time, the episode uses it central concepts well enough – turning a standard body swap episode into an intersection between Mulder and the real world. Peering behind the curtain, Mulder is surprised to find people asking the same questions that he does. Dreamland is never as philosophical as Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, but it does touch on the idea that Mulder’s “Truth” might be a bigger question.

As with all great science-fiction, the episode’s central high concepts become a vehicle for comtemplation and rumination. Morris is practically a stranger to his own family, so the visual of him coming home as a literally different person works well. (“I will not live this way, Morris,” Joanne insists to Mulder!Morris, to underscore the point. “I will not let you walk in and out of this house like a total stranger.”) Even the structure of the episode seems designed to explore questions and ideas that are clearly bothering the show itself at this point in its life-cycle.

Yes. Yes he is.

Yes. Yes he is.

Scully reflects on the existential crisis in the teaser, handily telegraphing the broad themes of the two-parter. “Mulder, it’s the dim hope of finding that proof that’s kept us in this car, or one very much like it for more nights than I care to remember. Driving hundreds if not thousands of miles through neighborhoods and cities and towns where people are raising families and buying homes and playing with their kids and their dogs, and… in short, living their lives. While we – we – we just keep driving.”

Scully’s anxieties are recognisable, but they apply as much to the show as to the characters. The early sixth season of The X-Files is engaged in its own version of Mulder’s trip through the looking glass. It is doing something different, and outside the usual remit of the show. The anxiety expressed by Scully reflects understandable concerns for a show in its sixth season. After all, six seasons can lead to a sensation of running in place. Particularly in a largely episodic television show, where the pull is generally towards a stable status quo.

The road to nowhere...

The road to nowhere…

Twentieth-century television was a fairly conservative medium, in terms of storytelling. Networks tended to think that audiences were fickle and that shows needed to make sense if they were broadcast out of order in syndication. In Laughing Out Loud, published in 2000, writer Andrew Horton argues that this structure is a feature of the medium:

That story sense – the Completed Circle That Is Not Quite Round – is necessary for television episodic shows, of course, since no radical change can take place without doing damage to the show’s basic concept. The characters in M*A*S*H don’t leave Korea or go beyond the time period of the Korean War; Lucy never moves out of the suburban home we came to memorise the floor plan and furniture of; Homer Simpson never leaves his job at the nuclear power plant; Seinfeld always lives in his apartment and keeps his job as a stand-up comedian.

Television requires that comfort zone of the predictable within which small surprises and changes can take place over time.

The sixth season had already shaken up the status quo as much as it could. The X-Files was no longer about the X-files, it moved to California, it was becoming as much a supernatural romantic comedy as a horror show. However, there was only so far it could change. Eventually the “rubber band” has to snap back, as it does at the end of Dreamland II. Eventually the status quo reasserts itself.

To coin a phrase...

To coin a phrase…

The X-Files gets a lot of credit for its serialised storytelling. It is hard to overstate just how radical the mythology was for a prime-time drama on a major network in the mid-nineties. The idea of a long-form story unfolding across years was incredibly ambitious for the time, and set The X-Files quite apart from most of its competitors. At the same time, the show was an early adapter; it technique was not ideal. The mythology evolved into a gigantic mess, and the “monster of the week” episodes generally remained self-contained units.

Television storytelling has evolved dramatically since the nineties. Writers and producers have grown more comfortable with the idea of genuine progression and evolution across a season of television, where episodes don’t feel the need to return to a familiar status quo before the credits role. That revolution was beginning in the late nineties. HBO had been broadcasting Oz since 1997, and it would launch The Sopranos a few weeks after Dreamland concluded. The X-Files had taken a big leap forward in the mid-nineties, but television marched on.

A rocky test flight...

A rocky test flight…

Dreamland I and Dreamland II aired at a point where that transition really began. As more and more attention focused on cable drama, The X-Files was trapped by the constraints of network television. As The X-Files moved through its sixth season and into its seventh, many of the voices that had celebrated the novelty and excitement of the earlier season had allowed their attention to drift to younger television shows. All the cooler kids would be distracted by Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, which launched in 1997. The adults would focus on The Sopranos.

To be fair, Dreamland I and Dreamland II implicitly acknowledge this. Mulder and Scully will never get out of the car, because that is just not possible within the confines of a network television drama like this. Mulder will never really stop “living like a frat boy”, to quote Morris Fletcher. There is an element of tragedy to all this. Perhaps the grimmest joke in Dreamland is the suggestion that the only way that Mulder’s apartment would ever get tidy would be if a grown up hijacked his body for a couple of days to force the issue.

"Daddy's home..."

“Daddy’s home…”

There is something decidedly goofy about the ease with which Dreamland latches on to pseudo-science and techno-babble. The production team on The X-Files had frequently boasted about trying to keep their horror and science-fiction rather low-key and grounded. Carter repeatedly refused to consider doing a time travel episode, meaning that the show was approaching the end of its fourth season before it wheeled out that classic science-fiction trope in Synchrony. There was a reluctance to really run with those sorts of “sci-fi” elements.

In contrast, no less than three episodes of the sixth season lean on time-travel in some way, including this two-parter. Tempus Fugit and Max had openly mocked the application of Star Trek techno-babble to the more grounded world of The X-Files. In contrast, Dreamland feels a lot more comfortable with it. “Beam me up, Scotty,” Jeff quips at one point, but the episode still commits to its pseudo-scientific jargon. Indeed, even Scully seems to get on board rather quickly with concepts that would redefine her understanding of the universe.

Wow, you guys are really serious about your parking regulations...

Wow, you guys are really serious about your parking regulations…

When Mulder balks at the term “warp”, Howard goes all-in with the sci-fi dialogue. “That’s a tear in the space-time continuum an anomaly created by the malfunction of the aircraft which was operating in gravity pulse mode before it went down,” he explains helpfully. In dialogue that might have been lifted from an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, he offers, “Anti-gravity systems utilize bends in space and time for propulsion. A sudden shift in a craft’s trajectory could create the kind of distortion we’re witnessing right here.”

To be fair, it is easy enough to follow, but it does seem a little too much of a handwave; an attempt to paste an authoritative-sounding explanation on a classic science-fiction gimmick. Interestingly, the last time that the show adopted this sort of approach was towards the end of the second season, when the show offered rather “far out” concepts like invisible animals (Fearful Symmetry), rapid aging (Død Kälm) and black hole shadows (Soft Light). However, the show quickly moved back to a lighter approach to science-fiction elements after that stretch.

File it away as an oddity...

File it away as an oddity…

The return to this approach undoubtedly alienated some hardcore fans of the show, startled by the sudden shift in the show’s aesthetic away from verisimilitude. The pseudo-science in Drive is no more “real” than the pseudo-science in Triangle or Dreamland, but the show frames it in a more realistic manner. It is presented as speculation, in broad strokes, without a specific vocabulary. There is a sense that Mulder and Scully are as new to this as the audience. In contrast, Triangle and Dreamland treat insane concepts as almost mundane.

The use of techno-babble actually hurts Dreamland a bit, because it suggests that Howard has a firm grasp of what he is doing. If Howard (and, by extension, Morris) operates in a framework where he can casually drop “space-time continuum” into conversation, you lose the sense that this is just an ordinary work place. The use of technobabble puts a wall between the viewer and the story, drawing attention to an attempt to paste over cracks in the story and serving as a bridge for all manner of logical leaps.

Resting uneasy...

Resting uneasy…

It could be argued that technobabble is part of the Star Trek aesthetic, but it fits less comfortably in the (ostensibly) more grounded world of The X-Files. After all, The X-Files has enjoyed greater success at the Emmy awards than any of the contemporary Star Trek shows, suggesting a more credible claim to the label of prestige drama. When Russell T. Davies resurrected Doctor Who in 2005, he consciously rejected many of the stylistic trappings of science-fiction, famously noting in his pitch, “If the Zogs on planet Zog are having trouble with the Zog-monster … who gives a toss?”

The “reset button” at the end of Dreamland II is another stylistic quirk that might have been inherited from the Star Trek franchise. Charlie Jane Anders described the “reset button” as  “the worst thing Star Trek did to science fiction.” While the concept of magically resetting everything back to the status quo existed long before (and far outside) Star Trek, the franchise tended to abuse the device in some of its incarnations. The Star Trek: Voyager two-parter Year of Hell ended with a memorably “hard” reset just over a year before the broadcast of Dreamland.

"I'll be back..."

“I’ll be back…”

That said, the phrase “reset button” can be somewhat overused in criticising episodic television, applying to any ending without obvious lasting repercussions. While most standalone episodes of The X-Files (barring exceptional cases like Leonard Betts) tended to end with Mulder and Scully reasonably close to where they began, Dreamland ends with a very literal reset. Due to the “warp”, neither Mulder nor Scully nor Fletcher remembers anything that happened to them. For the characters involved, it is literally as though the two-parter never happened.

Of course, the fact that Mulder’s apartment remains clean and that he still has the waterbed in Monday suggests that not everything is lost, but Dreamland is quite pointedly ambiguous on the specifics of the extent of the reset. Since Kersh and the Lone Gunmen weren’t at the reset, will they remember their encounters with Morris!Mulder? What about Wegman? Is he still fired? Will he remember the events? Will he try to contact Mulder again? Dreamland offers little in the way of a satisfactory conclusion. “All’s well that ends well,” it seems to shrug.

Badge of honour...

Badge of honour…

There is something a little frustrating in all of this. After all, even if the characters don’t mention the events of Never Again every week, the events still inform the audience’s perception of the characters going forward. Dreamland contains a number of poignant moments, like Mulder realising that his confusion is not unique or Morris reconciling with Joanne. Those character moments are all lost now, as Genevieve Burgess observes:

Until, of course, the end of the show when “time snaps back like a rubber band,” and Fletcher and Mulder end up back exactly where they had been at the beginning of the episode as though no time had passed. Fletcher never reconnects with his wife, Mulder never gets a taste of a life outside his own, and both of them go on to the misery we had seen so clearly laid out over the course of the two episodes no wiser or smarter than they had been before.

To be fair, it is possible to argue that some impression of the events remain in place. After all, Mulder’s apartment is still tidy. However, it does feel like a more thorough than usual reset to the status quo, affirming all of Scully’s fears about running on the spot. After everything, they wind up right back in the car again, right back where they started.

"C'mon. This is a pretty good date night."

“C’mon. This is a pretty good date night.”

That said, the problem is tempered somewhat by the sense that the “reset button” is part of the point of the episode. Dreamland captures a lot of the mood of the early sixth season of The X-Files, a sense that this new approach to the show is an attempt to shake off understandable anxieties about getting stuck in the same old routine. However, as with the more radical changes in Dreamland, all of the smaller changes in the sixth season will be reset. The X-Files will spring back into something closer to its classic shape, much like a rubber band.

Although quirky romantic comedy episodes tend to dominate the first half of a season that finds Mulder and Scully reassigned away from the X-files, gravity will nudge the show closer and closer to its classic configuration. Two Fathers and One Son will put Mulder and Scully back in the basement, investigating the paranormal in an official capacity. Characters like Spender and Kersh will go on extended leave. The comedy will make way for more traditional horror and monster stories, with a dash of more “straight” speculative fiction thrown in.

As such, Dreamland seems more bleak than it might seem at first glance. It is a funny episode, but there is a decidedly cynical undercurrent to it. It seems to suggest that seismic change is possible in the short term, but eventually everything falls back into place. Eventually life finds a way back to the dull status quo, Morris and Joanne find their way back to an unhappy marriage, Mulder and Scully find their way back to the car. The more things change, the more they eventually change back.

The sixth season of The X-Files never seems entirely sure whether this is a good thing, and never seems sure whether to laugh or cry. An awkward chuckle will have to suffice.

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2 Responses

  1. Great review. I loved this episode (and its follow up) and found it very funny.

    That said I think you do give to much credit to the likes of ‘The Sopranos’ (a vastly overrated show in any case in my opinion) and my beloved ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (and though I was a teen when it started and therefore not a teen I was not and never was, cool.)

    ‘Dallas’ spent the entire first half of the 1980s in the top two shows Americans watched and was very heavily serialised, with seasonal arcs, cliffhangers and longer running plotlines. True its DNA lay in the world of the soap opera but that doesn’t stop it from being what it was; a huge mainstream success that expected its viewers to follow events from week to week. I do think its undeniable that television has changed and serialisation has become the norm in areas where it hasn’t historically been a factor such sci-fi and crime but I think we’re in danger of forgetting less ‘respectable’ genres of television like the soap opera and the sitcom were playing around with many of these concepts before the supposed visionaries.

    • Thanks Ross.

      That’s a very fair point. I suppose it’s more reasonable to argue that the nineties and noughties saw this approach becoming more acceptable in more prestigious genres. In fact, it could be argued that the large arc of television narratives int he past twenty years has been a broader acceptance of trashier narrative conventions in more prestigious programming. (Game of Thrones is pure pulp, but it’s treated like prestige television. Even breaking bad takes a lot of elements associated with trashier genre stories and turns them into one of the best-loved television narratives of all time.)

      The Sopranos? Overrated? Controversial opinion! (Although I think Oz is often overshadows and overlooked in discourses about “the HBO revolution.”)

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